Haunted at 17: My Story

In honour of the release of 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma, she has been running a series-type thing on her blog, Distraction no. 99, where she and other authors have been discussing what haunted them when they were 17 years old.

I know that I'm a little slow on the uptake here, but I saw so many of the wonderful posts that Nova Ren Suma has been tweeting and blogging and I wanted to write one. I knew I had something to say. I could feel it inside me. The reason this took me a while to get out, though, is primarily because I couldn't think of something that really haunted me at 17. 

Warning: Long, personal post ahead. 

See, I'm only going on 19 this spring, so I didn't think I was far enough removed yet from 17 to really know the connection between feelings or events that would be what haunted me. And then I was aimlessly scrolling through Twitter, watching conversations and comments flow by when it hit me. I know what haunted me at 17 because it still haunts me today. I'm not haunted by ghosts. I am the ghost. 

At 17 I was, and still today I am absolutely an introvert. Don't get me wrong, I love having friends and spending time with them. Companionship feels wonderful. But I am simply too shy and too self-conscious to put myself out there. I stop myself from joining in conversations all the time because I feel like either I'll be interrupting and bothering the people having it, or else I'll have nothing of value to say and that these people will then look down on me. I am afraid to approach people because I so often don't know what to say without making a fool of myself. And I am TERRIFIED of making a fool of myself. I have missed out on a lot because I was afraid. Afraid of looking stupid. Afraid of being the one person in the group who doesn't "get it", or has the wrong opinion. I have felt like this for years now. And this fear pushes me directly to the background.

 When I was 17, I was in high school. All throughout high school I was slowly retreating into my shell of self-consciousness. I had already drifted apart from both of my childhood best friends (though not completely at my own fault), which I find myself regretting all the time. At 17, I could count the number of people I truly considered my friends on one hand. I wanted to make more. I TRIED to make more. But nobody ever really responded to my efforts. Probably because by 17, I had already established myself as a bit of a recluse. In senior year, I showed up with my best friend at a Halloween house party that I had been off-handedly invited to. People were genuinely surprised to see me there. That same best friend told me one say that someone at school had asked her "Does Jessica even go here anymore?" I remember thinking to myself, "How did it go this far, that people don't expect to ever see me outside of school? That people don't even know I still go to this school? How did I become so invisible?" Because I wasn't friends with the "party/popular/fun people" before 17, and I was too afraid at 17 to even try to become a friend of theirs. They each had a friend group already. Why would they want me in it? I had convinced myself that I had nothing to contribute to any of those groups.

 Now, at almost 19, not much has changed. I rarely make friends in my classes because I'm so afraid of introducing myself to someone and having them think I am a complete idiot, or any other number of terrible things I could be. I have had 10 university classes so far. I have made one friend. She was the one to start the conversation. She was the one who first suggested we do something together outside of class. I was surprised when she did, because I still feel like "Why would she want to spend more time with me?" I cannot tell you how many things I've changed, how many times I've kept my mouth shut, how many tweets or Facebook updates I've typed out only to never post them. All because I am terrified of being THAT person that everyone talks about with disgust or in mocking. I often feel lonely or left out and wish I had more friends to spend time with, but the ironic part is I am pushing so many potential friends away by willingly fading out of their line of sight. It's my own fault. I don't want to say something wrong, so I say nothing at all. And saying nothing means never getting noticed. It means nobody gets to know you. And it is something I struggle with.

 Every time I send off a tweet (I use Twitter as my example because it is so relevant nowadays as an easy form of communication with pretty much anyone) to someone or as a response that then doesn't get an answer, I feel awful about myself and think "Why did I even bother? They don't care about my opinion anyway. Why should I or my useless thoughts matter to them?" And this is not the fault of the person I tweet at. They don't have any obligation to respond to me. Tweets get lost in the craziness of Twitter. People are BUSY. I KNOW that most of the time, they're not purposely avoiding my message to them. But it feels like they are, because the part of me that thinks I'm not worth it tells me so. And every time it happens, I feel more and more invisible in my own world. This invisibility has not just come from Twitter. This feeling has been with me for years, and at 17 it made me turn my back on the "social world" of high school. Junior year I was still trying. I tried to talk to people in class. I tried to take part in events. I went to my boyfriend's senior prom. And then, in my senior year, I stopped trying because I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere. I went to that one Halloween party, and that's it all year. I spent every one of my spare periods in the library. I skipped my prom. On graduation day, I got photos with, count 'em, three classmates. That was how far back I had pulled myself. Because I was scared and I was insecure. I still am, and today it dictates every move I make.  

That little voice inside me speaks to me still, saying "Don't say that, it's dumb," or "Nobody cares about _____. Shut up," or even, "They're only inviting you because you're bothering them and they want you to stop." Every day I deal with that voice telling me what is okay for me to do and what is not. And right now, the voice is telling me not to post this because you'll all think I'm begging for attention. But I will post it. And honestly, knowing that I will indeed post it has my stomach in a knot, because I am genuinely afraid that people will read this and think "She just wants us to feel bad for her." But I don't want that. That is not my intention here, and please believe that. I'm just being honest about why I hold back. Why I don't appear to be as friendly as I want to -- as I truly am, deep down inside. I want to be your friend. I am just scared to show it because I don't think I know how to.  


  1. I think that's a really common feeling, actually, especially at 17. I went to the same school from sixth to twelfth grade, so I had the advantage of making this seamless transition to high school with people I'd known forever, but I was still really worried about how people perceived me. I wouldn't wear anything but T-shirts, jeans and running shoes for years -- not because I wanted to (which would have been okay, of course!) but because I'd never dressed any other way, and I was afraid that if I changed that, people would comment on it and humiliate me.

    The best I can say is that there's a kind of art to the kind of vagueness that's required for going out and talking to people -- it's almost like you have this tiny scared little blob at the back of your mind, but you're just going to ignore it utterly. I kind of figured out in college that most people don't remember what you say, even if it's stupid, and for the most part they're really concentrated on themselves and not on other people... so it's easier not to monitor what you say or worry too much that it will come out wrong. I think the fear of these kinds of things happening is usually a lot worse than the reality, too.

    Last -- in college, I haven't had much success making friends within my classes. Pretty much all my friends I've met through clubs: the creative writing club, Amnesty International, my literary magazine... and then those friends introduced me to people that they knew, and that was my network. So I'd say, if you're not in any clubs right now, go join one! It's often a lot easier when you're doing stuff with people rather than just sitting in a room listening to a professor talk.

    1. First off I want to thank you for taking the time to read my post and leave such a thoughtful comment. It means a lot to me :)
      A lot of what you've said really makes sense to me. I hadn't thought about people focusing on themselves so much more than on others and therefore probably not even worrying about what I've said. If that's something I can remember while I'm speaking with people, it might help me not be so hard on myself.
      I have made a small attempt at joining a club but I was too shy to really say much. I think that will be one of my big goals for myself for the next three years of school, though: join clubs and speak up in them. It's encouraging to see that it has really worked for people before. Gives me hope that I can do it too.
      Thank you again, so much :)

  2. *HUGE HUGS* You basically just told me my own story.

    You're not alone in feeling scared, self-conscious, maybe even devaluing yourself and what you have to say. The thing is, there are no guarantees. There is always a chance someone will mock you, or find fault with you. That doesn't mean they're right, or that you are any less valuable and worthwhile than they are (hey, at least you're not being a dick and mocking someone, right? [pardon my language]).

    Take it from someone who ended up in therapy for her anxiety: the only solution, scary as it sounds, is to take risks, and be vulnerable. Your heart wants to connect with people, but your head wants to protect you from potential harm by keeping you locked inside of a box. Neither side is right or wrong, and you *can* find a compromise between boxed-in and running naked through the halls of social interaction.

    Have you ever heard of Brene Brown? Listen to her TED talk on vulnerability. It changed my life. Maybe it will change yours. :)


    (A little tip in the meantime: social media and media in general have been known to increase social anxiety by showing us unrealistic and incomplete representations of our peers. Maybe take some time off from the internet and television. I left Facebook in August and it made a HUGE difference in my anxiety)

    1. *Hugs back* Thank you so much :)
      While I'm not happy to hear that you've struggled with this as well, it is reassuring to know that it's not just me. Having really thought this through so I could write this post, I realize that you're right. I have to do my best to just get over it and put myself out there. Thank you for helping me see that :)
      I haven't seen that TED talk but I will definitely check it out. And as for social media, I have made an effort to cut back on using Facebook considerably lately and I have noticed a bit of a difference, so maybe I should take it a step further as you suggest. Absolutely something I will think about. I'm so glad that you've had such success with it :)

  3. I am turning 30 this year and still totally feel this way. Going to the Ottaw Book blogger meet up and last night's book club were huge leaps for me out of my comfort zone. I'm so shy and anxious and nervous around people and I feel like I completely understand what you've posted. Even writing on my little blog requires courage! Thank you for being brave enough to share this!

    1. Kimmy, thank you! I was so nervous for those as well. While I was excited going in, I got there and felt like I had nothing much important to say. I was intimidated. I'm a little surprised actually, that those were out of your comfort zone because, especially at the book club, you seemed so confident! You had a lot to say that really made sense. Knowing that you were just as nervous as I was is pretty inspirational. I can hope that eventually I'll be able to speak my mind in a group like you did at book club :)

  4. Have you read Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld? Her protagonist is exactly like you, and maybe reading her story (which is really kind of a cautionary tale about how shyness and insecurity is so easily misinterpreted as aloofness) will help your get a different perspective. You don't want to "waste" your college years by holding back so much that you ghost through them. We all do and say lame stuff from time to time, but don't muzzle your own voice by anticipating and worrying about it. You were brave enough to do this post! They say we should do one thing every day that scares us. You did yesterday's. Now do today's.

    1. I haven't read Prep but it sounds like something that would be perfect for me. I think a different perspective might help me be more willing to change how I'm holding back. You're right, I don't want to ghost through so I clearly need to do something about it!
      As for that last point, I never thought that much about it but you're absolutely right. I really think that's something I should keep in my mind and strive for. Today's is opening up to a close personal friend about all this. Thank you so much, Liz :)

  5. Jessica,

    This is an incredible, incredible post. I am so very honored that you put it up, and that the Haunted at 17 series inspired you to do so. I really don't have the words to say how much it means to me.

    Partly because I have to tell you: Your story really resonates with me, on a personal level, because I was very much like this at 17 (and beyond, into my twenties too). Such an introvert, so unable to insert myself into conversations, to put myself out there, etc., and it's taken me years to get past it (I don't know if I have entirely)… I wanted to tell you that I relate so much, I just so completely understand.

    Also, clearly, from just reading this post, you have so many worthy things to say. You seem amazing. You seem so worth knowing. You seem like you would be a true, real friend.

    This was strong, and brave, and beautiful.

    I wanted to say that.


    p.s. I've promised anyone who wrote Haunted at 17 posts some 17 & GONE swag if they wanted, so feel free to email me at nova[at]novaren[dot]com if you do.

    1. Wow. Nova, you're making me tear up. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post. It was hard to put that out there but in the end I'm glad I did because it's nice to know that other people understand. So thank you, Nova, for this feature and for your kind words. They truly mean a lot :))

  6. Oh, I see so much of myself in your post. I often think badly of myself when someone doesn't respond to a tweet. And I cannot count the number of times I've typed a response on twitter, or FB, or a blog, and then deleted it because I thought "Who cares what I think?" or "They are going to think I'm a giant dweeb."

    You are not alone.

    Thank you for being brave enough to post this. (((hugs)))

    1. That's exactly what goes through my mind. It's hard to struggle with that because I feel like I'm constantly muting myself. I just have to think that I would love to hear what you have to say, for example, so maybe you'd be interested in what I have to say, too. Thank you, Larissa. *hugs*


I'd love to hear what you think!